Notes: Too many people inside ropes at Ryder Cup?

By Doug FergusonOctober 7, 2014, 4:24 pm

NAPA, Calif. – For the first two days of the Ryder Cup, only 16 players were on the golf course at the same time.

And they had plenty of company.

The greatest growth in golf might be the number of guests allowed inside the ropes at the Ryder Cup.

The access began with the players' wives dressed in uniform. It has expanded significantly in the last decade to include the parents of the players, the parents of the players' wives, other family members of the players, the wives and family members of the caddies. Not to be overlooked was Michael Jordan, a regular at the Ryder Cup.

Some have credentials. Some do not. One person at Gleneagles was the friend of a brother of a player. Other person seen inside the ropes was ... well, no one was sure.

It's not a clean look, especially with overhead views on television. And there were a few complaints from fans behind the ropes to struggled to see.

This has not escaped the attention of Ryder Cup organizers.

''It is an issue that we continue to review and monitor,'' Kerry Haigh, chief of championships for the PGA of America, said in an email. ''As you know, there are a number of different groups that currently are allowed access inside the ropes. ... All categories and numbers are and will be reviewed and may be reduced or eliminated if we collectively feel it will be in the best interests of the Ryder Cup.''

OLD COURSE: Rory McIlroy wouldn't describe his affection for the Old Course at St. Andrews as love at first sight.

''Hated it,'' he said last week at the Dunhill Links Championship.

McIlroy first played the Old Course in 2005 when he was 16 playing in the St. Andrews Links Trophy.

''Thought it was the worst golf course I've ever played,'' he said. ''I just stood up on every tee and was like, 'What is the fascination about this place?' But the more you play it and the more you learn about the golf course and the little nuances, you learn to appreciate it. Now it's my favorite golf course in the world.''

He's in good company. Bobby Jones was so frustrated in the 1921 British Open that he withdrew on the 11th hole of the third round.

McIlroy shot 69.

''But it's nothing to do with the score,'' McIlroy said. ''That's not why I like a golf course. I like courses for lots of different reasons whether you shoot 64 or 74 on them.''

Jones went on to win The Open in 1927 at St. Andrews, and he won the British Amateur on the Old Course as part of his Grand Slam in 1930.

McIlroy returned to St. Andrews in 2007 for the Dunhill Links and closed with a 68 to finish third, earning enough money to get his European Tour card at age 18. Three years later, he tied a major championship record with a 63 at St. Andrews (the wind swept him away to an 80 the next day).

''I've just become very comfortable on the Old Course,'' he said.

McIlroy returns in July to defend his title in the Open.

ROOKIE CLASS: The PGA Tour will have 21 players designated as rookies for the 2014-15 season, and four of them have never played a PGA Tour event.

That includes Byron Smith, at 33 the oldest of the rookies.

Smith grew up in Palm Desert, California, and went to Pepperdine until quitting the team after his sophomore year. In an interview with the Raleigh News & Observer after his Tour victory, Smith said he played bass guitar in a reggae-punk band and concentrated on his studies. He majored in philosophy. His senior thesis was titled, ''Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, Bad Faith.''

So how did golf get back into the picture? He went on a family holiday to British Columbia, was talked into bringing his clubs and shot 67. He got the bug again and told his father he planned to turn pro.

''He said, 'A pro in what?''' Smith said.

He was first alternate for the Open.

BACK TO BRITAIN: Patrick Reed is headed back to Britain for another dose of match play.

Reed has been invited to take part in the Volvo World Match Play Championship at London Golf Club on Oct. 15-19. He is the lone American in the 16-man field, though certainly not the only Ryder Cup player. Defending champion Graeme McDowell, Henrik Stenson, Thomas Bjorn, Victor Dubuisson, Jamie Donaldson and Stephen Gallacher also are playing in an even that truly has a ''world'' atmosphere. The 16 players come from 13 countries.

Reed was 3-0-1 in his Ryder Cup debut at Gleneagles, the only American not to lose. At the Match Play Championship in Arizona earlier this year, he lost in the second round.

''Although we suffered a very disappointing loss at Gleneagles, I enjoyed the competition of my first Ryder Cup and can't wait to get back out there to play in another match play event in the UK,'' Reed said.

GOLFER OF THE MONTH: Rickie Fowler won a fan vote for PGA Tour player of the month even though Rory McIlroy won a World Golf Championship and a major. Paul McGinley won the media vote for European Tour golfer of the month for September without hitting a shot.

McGinley was selected by a panel of writers and broadcasters for his job as European captain in a resounding victory at the Ryder Cup.

''I feel like there are 12 winners of the Golfer of the Month Award rather than me,'' McGinley said. ''But I'm delighted to accept this award on behalf of those 12 players who represented Europe so magnificently in the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles.''

DIVOTS: The brother of Steve Stricker died over the weekend. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel said Scott Stricker died Saturday. He suffered from Crohn's disease and had surgery in January to repair an intestinal tear. He had a liver transplant the following month. ... Thomas Bjorn and Stephen Gallacher are the only players from the Ryder Cup who will not be PGA Tour members this season. ... Scott Verplank and Chad Campbell are using their exemption from the top 50 in career money to have full status on the PGA Tour this year. Verplank turned 50 in June. Kenny Perry, who plays primarily on the Champions Tour, is using his one-time exemption from top 25 on the career money list.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Four players earned more than $4 million on the PGA Tour last year without winning a tournament.

FINAL WORD: ''It's easy to accept these things when you have two majors in the bag - same as the FedEx Cup, same as everything else that's happened after the summer.'' - British Open and PGA champion Rory McIlroy after a late bogey cost him a chance to win the Dunhill Links Championship.

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LAAC returning to Casa de Campo in 2019

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 8:23 pm

The Latin America Amateur Championship will return to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic in 2019 (Jan. 17-20), event organizers announced Saturday in Chile, where this year’s championship is underway.

The LAAC champion receives an invitation to play the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club every spring.

The champion is also exempt into The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event for which he is eligible to compete. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

The championship got its start in 2015 with Chile’s Matias Dominguez winning at Pilar Golf in Argentina. In 2016, Casa de Campo hosted, with Costa Rica’s Paul Chaplet winning. At 16, he became the first player from Central America to compete in the Masters. In 2017, Chile’s Toto Gana won the title at  Club de Golf de Panama.

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Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 6:07 pm

An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.

It was too much “socializing.”

“I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”

Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.

“Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.

His plan for doing that?

“Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”

Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

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Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.